The story of “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe is full of conflict from beginning to end. The narrator of this story does not reveal why such a conflict exists other than to say someone has impugned his honor. Poe makes use of irony, symbolism among other linguistics means to tell a revenge story under Montresor’s, the murderer, view and ideas. Even knowing the narrator is not reliable and he probably is mad, the reader stands on his side from the beginning to the end of the conflict. This article will try to analyze the tools used by Poe to create this short story.
The Style of Poe in “The cask of amontillado”
Strengthening readers’ comprehension of his writing is also a key function of the imagery Poe uses. The variety of stylistic devices used by Poe to create the atmosphere of horror and terror includes the setting, one of the things the author uses to paint a dark and gloomy picture in the reader’s mind. For example: as described by him in the beginning of the short story “It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival seasonâ€¦” or like in this paragraph: “At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less spacious. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris. Three sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this manner. From the fourth side the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size. Within the wall thus exposed by the displacing of the bones, we perceived a still interior crypt or recess, in depth about four feet, in width three, in height six or seven. It seemed to have been constructed for no especial use within itself, but formed merely the interval between two of the colossal supports of the roof of the catacombs, and was backed by one of their circumscribing walls of solid granite”. Imagery in Poe’s style of writing clearly involves readers in the story, and his use of complex vocabulary ensures that readers understand his themes and implications.
The use of symbolism is what makes Poe’s short story even more interesting. Symbolism, according to the The Dictionary of Literary Terms, is an object, person, idea, etc. used in a literary work, film, etc., to stand for or suggest something else with which it is associated either explicitly or in some more subtle way. It may not be clear for some readers, but in “The Cask of Amontillado” the fight between two social class conflict and the aristocratic social codes is very well pictured.
Montresor meets Fortunato “as if by chance” when it is clear that Montresor already of Fortunato’s attendance during the Carnival celebration at a banquet. When Montresor leads the intoxicated Fortunato into the blind wall in the subterranean passages of Montresor’s family grave and takes him prisoner, he already has mortar and trowel prepared for walling up his victim. Since Fortunato had given Montresor a Masonic sign and asked him if he were a Mason, a question which response was that Fortunato was nothing more than a real stone mason and the murderer laughingly showed the real trowel he had with him, it can also be a humorous imitation of the French Freemasonry, whose motto was “liberté, égalité, fraternité.”
Fortunato is of bourgeois origin and Montresor, who is full of aristocratic pride reflected in his thoughts of titles of nobility, genealogy, escutcheons, coats of arms, quarterings, the bones of ancestors, fiefs, and inheritable property, could not handle an offense against one’s honor called for justice and punishment. The motto on his coat of arms is “Nemo me impune lacessit” (“No one insults me with impunity”). He cannot challenge the ignorant Fortunato; besides, with his purchased title he holds some official post in the government, is perhaps an intendant, and is thus a personification of the evils that had been foisted on the provincial aristocracy by the crown. Since Fortunato has power, Montresor turns on to murder.
The symbolism can also be noticed in some other aspects and details of the short story. Ironically, the victim is named Fortunato, which in English means “lucky man” or fortunate. He is said to be wearing motley: “a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells”, just like a jester. The ironic meaning of Fortunato’s name, for the story proves that he is greatly unfortunate, creates a symbolic image of a light-minded, frivolous man, who shows little understanding of his own life.
On what it comes to the narration style, Poe does what he did in other two of his short stories (“The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”): he conveys the story through the murderer’s perspective. In a very wise way, Poe presents the narrator in the first-person, Montresor, what makes him not reliable, since he tells the story under his perspective. As we can see in this part of the story, Montresor never tells the reader the real cause of his revenge:
“THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled –but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.”
Poe uses irony as a catharsis for his inner angst. Even beneath the grotesque visions of dead remains everywhere in the underground vault, the reader feels little sympathy for Fortunato, perhaps because of his elitist attitude when he mocks Montresor, saying “You are not of the brotherhood.” It is important to remember that Fortunato had countless opportunities to leave at the narrator’s insistence, but this man disregards them nevertheless, forever sealing his own fate; when the narrator proclaims his family motto and the description of his family crestas a snake biting into the heel that crushes it, all of these are clues that could potentially allow for Fortunato’s escape. In recalling the image of the snake, it is Montresor who plays this role against the man who would mercilessly step upon him, demeaning him, as Fortunato had done so many times before.
“The Cask of Amontillado” is filled with irony, starting by the title that mentions a barrel of a rare wine which is a secondary, if not a mere detail in the whole story. We also have a situational case of irony as Montresor takes the opportunity of the carnival season celebration, a date to celebrate joyfully, to trap and murder Fortunato.
In this short story we can find three types of irony:
Verbal irony which involves saying one thing but meaning the opposite.
Situational irony which occurs when events turn out the opposite of what would ordinarily be expected. For example: the title of the short story as mentioned before.
Dramatic irony is when readers or viewers of a story know more than the characters or can interpret more accurately what they have to say. When Montresor repeats Fortunato’s “Let us be gone,” readers probably make a second interpretation of what Fortunato understand by that.
The first words Montresor utters when he meets Fortunato is full of irony, since he did not met his friend by a chance, neither Fortunato was “luckily met”: “My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met”. Fortunatos jester costume is also very satirical.
The way the story unfolds itself and the way Montresor talks to Fortunato is full of irony from the beginning to the very end when he screams Fortunatos name right after he died. Here are some excerpts to illustrate:
Montresor expressing himself worried about the nitre-covered walls and exacerbation of Fortunato’s cough-this is an example of verbal irony. As the victim replies: “the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.”
The second bottle of wine consumed is a flagon of De Grave – here Poe plays with the wine brand and the word grave in English which means sepulture: “I broke and reached him a flagon of De Grave. He emptied it at a breath. His eyes flashed with a fierce light. He laughed and threw the bottle upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand.”
They made a toast to Fortunato’s long life, who did not know he was about to face death: “Drink,” I said, presenting him the wine.
He raised it to his lips with a leer. He paused and nodded to me familiarly, while his bells jingled.
“I drink,” he said, “to the buried that repose around us.”
“And I to your long life.”
Fortunato is the real ignoramus, term he used to insult Luchesi, whom Montresor has several times suggested as a connoisseur who could substitute for Fortunato: “As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If anyone has a critical turn, it is he. He will tell me” —
“Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry.”
“Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado! You have been imposed upon; and as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado.”
Poe uses repetition to ensure readers to deeper comprehend the concepts and story development.
In this short story we do not have a violent, drunk or psycho character that kills for no reason or disconnected from reality. Montresor knows what he is doing and maintains focused and lucid all the time and that is what apart “The Cask of Amontillado” from Poe’s other tales.
This tale contains a great amount of dark humor and is somehow a type of warning for those who thread other people by bullying them because the offended ones might always come back urging for revenge.
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